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Exercise boosts the body's own 'cannabis'

LIFESTYLE

We all know exercise is good for us, but now there’s another plus. It turns out exercise also increases the body’s own cannabis-like substances, which in turn help reduce inflammation and may help treat conditions such as arthritis, cancer and heart disease.


In a new study, published in Gut Microbes, researchers from the University of Nottingham in the UK found that when people with arthritis exercised, not only did it reduce their pain, it also lowered their levels of inflammatory substances called cytokines. In fact, it also increased their levels of endocannabinoids, cannabis-like substances produced by their own bodies. Remarkably, the way exercise produced these changes was by altering our gut microbes.

Exercise is known to reduce chronic inflammation — which causes numerous diseases including cancer, arthritis and heart disease — but little is known as to how.


A team of scientists from the university’s School of Medicine tested 78 people with arthritis. Thirty-eight of them undertook 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises every day for six weeks; the other 40 did nothing.


At the end of the study, those who exercised had not only reduced their pain, but also had more microbes in their guts of the kind that produce anti-inflammatory substances, as well as fewer cytokines and more endocannabinoids.


The increase in endocannabinoids was found to be strongly linked to changes in the gut microbes and anti-inflammatory substances produced by these microbes called SCFAS. In fact, at least a third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbiome was due to an increase in endocannabinoids.


“As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it’s important to know that simple lifestyle changes such as exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” concludes Dr Amrita Vijay, a research fellow in the School of Medicine and first author of the study.


PHOTO Bruno Nascimento


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